Creative Shop Solutions

Sum of its parts

By Lisa Rummler

January 2010- When summer finally rolls around, playgrounds across the country will be filled with bike-riding children decked out in helmets and elbow and knee pads. Whether this protective gear makes them feel safe, or just because kids will be kids, it’s likely many of these children will attempt to do something foolish as they pedal away. Their famous last words? "Look, no hands!"

Unlike these would-be daredevils, Lock Joint Tube, South Bend, Ind., takes safety seriously and emphasizes its importance throughout its operations.

On the shop floor, hands-free, automated entry systems on two of its tubing mills help the cutting house and tube manufacturer increase safety, as well as bolster efficiency.

"What we gained from them is efficiencies--efficiencies and scrap savings are probably the two biggest things," says David DiTommaso, vice president of operations at Lock Joint Tube. "And there was a safety improvement on top of that because it required less handling by the operators grabbing steel and strip edges. And everything is automated, so it’s pretty much a fully functional entry system where the operator never touches the steel."

Lock Joint Tube purchased the first entry system about two years ago and the second about one year later.

"[They] were bigger than the accumulators that we had," says DiTommaso. "We’re going to wider, heavier-gauge material--the market’s driving us to bigger-diameter tubing, which required more automation on the uncoiler and welding portions of the entry part of the mill."

Material matters
Lock Joint Tube has been in business since 1919. It manufactures mechanical- and structural-grade steel tubing in two plants in South Bend, serving a variety of market segments.

According to the company’s Web site, "In hospitals, you’ll find our tubing in IV stands, bedside tables and chairs, as well as for railing throughout medical facilities. [It’s also] on the road and near benches for boat trailers [and] in your neighborhood as the support members of satellite TV dishes."

For the automotive sector, Lock Joint Tube manufactures a wide range of component parts, including exhaust systems on tractor trailer rigs, running board assemblies on SUVs and structural beams on motor home chassis.

Additionally, the company’s tubing can be found in office furniture, cafeteria furnishings, retail shelves and merchandising islands.

"We make parts that go into [many] industries, but we only make the tubing parts," says DiTommaso. "Then they get shipped out, and regardless of the customer, they do additional cutting, bending, painting, notching--things of that nature."

Lock Joint Tube works with hot-rolled, cold-rolled, aluminized and galvanized steel. On the two tubing mills with the automated, hands-free entry systems, Lock Joint Tube runs steel from 0.03 in. to 0.154 in. thick.

"These tube mills produce anywhere from 1-in.-diameter to 4-in.-diameter mechanical tubing," says DiTommaso. "There’s mechanical, and there’s structural tubing. Mechanical tubing has more critical specifications."

Bringing it together
Manufactured by Kent/Tesgo, North Royalton, Ohio, the entry systems consist of a double uncoiler; a hold-down, hold-up roll system; an outboard retainer system; a feed table system; an end welder; and an accumulator system.

Len Steinmeyer, president of Tesgo Inc., says these particular systems are used in the tube mill industry, as well as the roll form industry. A version of them could be used in the stamping industry.

"The stamping industry would use the uncoiler, some type of feeding device to get the coil into an end welder and then end weld it," says Steinmeyer. "Rarely does a stamping system have the accumulator."

All the parts that make up Lock Joint Tube’s entry systems correspond to a distinct step in the coil-handling process.

"The sequence of operations would be that a coil is running through the line, the entry operator would load a new coil on the rear side of the uncoiler, expand the mandrel on the ID of the coil, bring down the hold-down roll and also the outboard coil retainer, which is the safety feature that keeps the coil from clock-springing sideways during the operations," says Steinmeyer. "So that coil is now ready. And when the end of the coil comes on the other side, the running side, the uncoiler rotates 180 degrees and brings the new coil that he had loaded into running position and the extended side of the uncoiler back to the back side, which is going to be the loading side then for the new coil."

After that, the operator brings the hold-up roll into position. Combined with the hold-down roll, the coil is now in place and cannot get away from the operator, who then removes the bands from the coil and feeds the coil up.

"If it’s coming from the bottom of the coil, he would use the hold-up roll, and if it’s coming from the top, he uses the hold-down roll," says Steinmeyer. "This then drags the strip up into the feed table, which has what we call a coil breaker. [It] back-bends the material in order to feed it into the next piece of equipment, which would be the end welder in this case, on that line. And the end welder shears the material, clamps the material, indexes the material, welds the material, and then it’s reset and ready to go to the accumulator."

Importance of efficiency
With its hands-free, automated entry systems, Lock Joint Tube has achieved about a 20 percent increase in productivity and knocked down scrap about 5 percent, according to DiTommaso.

"If we didn’t have the entry systems, you would have to feed one coil at a time through the tube mill, which would give you additional scrap and slow down your efficiencies quite a bit," he says. "In an eight-hour day, we’ll feed as many as 30 to 40 coils, depending on the coil size and the thickness of the coils, through the machines. So if you had to shut down for every coil to feed through the machine, you’d be down quite a bit."

The critical component of the entry systems is the accumulator, according to DiTommaso, because it allows coils, or coil joints, to stack up.

"We’ll actually take two coils and join them together, and while the accumulator is holding steel, the tube mill can continue to run without shutting down," he says.

These two entry systems are the latest in the line of entry equipment Kent/Tesgo has supplied Lock Joint Tube. This reflects the businesses’ good relationship and mutual respect, according to DiTommaso.

"I’ve known these guys probably for 20 years," he says. "They’re a terrific company, and the ownership is terrific. They’ve been supplying high-end machinery for many industries for years and years." FFJ

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  • Kent/Tesgo
    North Royalton, Ohio
    phone: 440/237-9286
    fax: 440/237-5368

  • Lock Joint Tube
    South Bend, Ind.
    phone: 800/524-6233
    fax: 574/299-3464


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